Hey Strategic Planning Save Me a Seat

August 15, 2019
by Tracy Betts

Why You Should Save a Seat For Technology at Your Strategic Planning Table & How to Do it Effectively

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In a recent meeting I attended, top executives were discussing the impact of technology on their associations. The question was asked “How many of you consider technology in your strategic planning process” – a lone hand was raised. 

We all can agree that technology is disrupting the Association space.  But too often technology is thought of as an enabler to support the strategic plan rather than a tool to help the association thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Indeed, an article highlighting a 2017 study from ASAE Foundation's Technology Success and Readiness Study  says 

“Associations are typically effective in their technology usage and maintenance systems.” 

and aptly points out "effective" is fine, but given that technology supports so much of association work—including key areas of member engagement—associations have opportunities to become truly innovative.

“Talking about technology in conjunction with organizational planning is one way to make that happen.”

And therein lies the crux of the problem.  

Many Association executives are not comfortable talking about technology because they do not fully understand it.  If you don’t understand it how can you talk to your Board about the importance of budgeting for it?  Compounding this problem: when EDs turn to traditional industry consultants to facilitate the strategic planning process, those consultants often don’t truly understand technology either.  

The result:

  • a planning process that doesn’t cultivate the mindset needed to embrace technology as an innovation driver
  • And...ultimately a strategic plan that doesn’t address both the greatest competitive enabler and threat to the Association

How can you integrate technology into the strategic planning conversation?   

Expand what you think of as “competition”

Think of technology itself as a competitor. Make a concerted effort to think about ways that emerging technology could make an impact on your association.  Start by asking your members how emerging technologies are impacting their businesses.  Consider the role of data intelligence, automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and cybersecurity. 

Find Inspiration outside your context

Analogous Inspirationis a terrific way to approach familiar problems with a “beginner mind” and gain fresh perspective. IDEO has a fantastic article on the how to use analogous inspiration.   They use the premise of imagining that you’re working for a bike store who has designed a new bike meant to get people into cycling who’ve never tried it. “In order to figure out how to get that non-cyclist demographic into an intimidating bike store, [IDEO] sent the entire design team (a team of mostly men) to Sephora, a beauty supply shop. The goal was to see how they felt being in a store with products fairly foreign to them to help them build empathy” and open their minds to concepts they could borrow for their own shop. That’s the concept: step outside of your own experience and context and find inspiration from other ways of being and doing things.

Explore extreme dimensions of relevant trends, technology, services and business models

Too often I have heard the comment “We should be more like Google, or Amazon, or Uber” met with a scoff and a response “well, we are NOT Amazon.”  You may not have the budget of Amazon or Google, but that doesn’t mean that you should shy away from exploring things they do well that you could replicate or even learning from a process they use.

Expand your user interviews

Associations are generally good at talking to their members to better understand their needs.  Consider also bringing in “outsiders” to expand your organizational perspective.  Are there experts in your industry, but not a part of your organization, that can offer fresh insights?   When you are gathering members and prospective members’ feedback, consider these partners/industry experts/students/other outsiders as well. 

Expect more from your strategic facilitator

When looking to hire a facilitator, ask them “What tools or techniques do you use to help us see the range of possibilities when it comes to the impact of technology on our association?”  There are many different approaches that can be used.  Follow the question with “When implementing the strategy can you help me create a framework for innovation. that advances new initiatives, while respecting the need to make innovation predictable, reliable, and safe?”


Not considering technology as an innovation driver puts your association at risk.  If you need more ideas on how to start the conversation and include technology in your planning process drop me a line.  I’m happy to talk! 

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